A new, fun themed boxed set is coming May 11th! Luck of the Draw is full of luck and wins! From sweepstakes to lottery to gambling, everyone wins some!
Today, I'm featuring the first chapter from one of the books in the set. So Unlike Me by USA Today Bestselling Author Nikki Lynn Barrett is a fun and emotional story about twins switching places, and the childhood best friend of one twin getting caught in the middle of the whole thing.....
So, here's Chapter One of So Unlike Me!
“You signed me up for what?” Lizette Monroe pinned her twin sister Nola with a furious, deadly look
“I didn't sign you up. I signed me up, and now I've chickened out. Why not switch with me?”
“Why not-” Lizette sputtered. “For one, I have tons of things I could be doing. Two, we're way too old to be pulling the twin switch. Three, you and your damn sweepstakes! Four-”
“Okay, okay. You don't need to list everything.” Nola's voice quieted to a low mutter. “It would be good for you. You know, get away from the press over Chip's-”
“Don't speak that name,” she seethed. Lizette's ex-fiancé was a hot topic lately, especially in the last few months when he threw her life in complete and utter uproar. A breakup was bad enough. He had to add public humiliation, lies, and slander to the list. Because Lizette and Nola were well known heiresses, of course the break up was in the spotlight. The unwanted attention forced her to keep her head low to figure things out. It came out of nowhere. One day, she'd been contemplating wedding things, wondering when Chip would commit to a date. He wanted it sooner, and didn't like the idea that he had to sign a prenup, forced upon Lizette by her parents' will. It made her question his motives, because if he'd loved her for the person she was and not what she represented, wouldn't he have been okay with it?
Why did things have to become so complicated?
That and Chip pulled it off on national TV. Some stupid reality dating show, Rebound, if she recalled correctly, where they go on and talk about all the things their exes did to hurt them. Then all season, the hosts would help them find a rebound date.
Can we say train wreck?
But back to her sister and the crazy twin switch idea. “Nola...”
“Come on, Lizette! You know I enter all of these things. The last thing I expected was to win. I was going to try, I really was.” Her twin trailed behind her when Lizette strode off to the kitchen, eager for a cup of coffee to process the whole thing. “This is perfect. It gets you out of here for a while, and you can play as me. Enjoy yourself.”
“Enjoy myself. Right,” Lizette muttered, mulling over the idea. Damn it, she didn't want to admit quite yet that her sister had a decent idea. Getting out of California could be exactly the cure she needed.
“I am right! You've been avoiding everyone and everything! Get out there and live again. Throw your happiness up in Chip's face! You know it'll only be a matter of time before the Rebound crew comes looking for you to find out your side. They''ll ask you to face Chip and what he says,
especially when he has his rebound date. You know how that show goes.”
“I don't, actually. I'm not the one who sits around the house watching stupid reality TV and entering sweepstakes.” At Nola's surprised gaze, Lizette clamped her lips shut.
Big mistake. Bad, bad, bad move. Nola's eyes watered.
“I'm sorry, Nola. My mouth got ahead of me.” Nola had become agoraphobic over the past year and a half, and nothing Lizette said or did helped so far. Her sister was so embarrassed by this that she'd begged Lizette to go out in her place if Nola was to appear anywhere. No one aside from the two of them and their late father's right hand man, Travis, knew the truth about Nola. “If I did this, what would you do for a week?”
“I have Travis. He comes by and helps,” Nola replied. “I didn't expect to win.”
Yeah, she said that already.
“Where's the vacation location?” Lizette treaded carefully. Nola would find any way she could to con her into saying yes, even when Lizette wasn't certain about any of this.
A twinkle lit up her twin's eyes. “Get this. Paris!”
“Seriously?” She whistled. Okay, this might be worth considering.
“We've got our passports already!”
Reality hit her hard in the gut.“Yeah, but taking your place going somewhere international is not the smartest move.”
“Well, don't get arrested, killed, or kidnapped. Simple.” Nola chuckled, crossing her arms. “Be serious! You know how much trouble we could get into?”
“A week in Paris. A week away from the media. A-” Oh, she planned to lay it on thick. Damn her!
“Nola!” Lizette cut her off. Her sister could be so reckless at times.
“It would be such a shame to let it go to waste,” Nola tsked. “All they'll do is check your- my passport. We've both got a clean record. Nothing could go wrong. I'll try when something is a little closer to home.”
Lizette sighed. How did her sister always manage to get into these situations? But damn it, Paris was tempting! And she could post photos all over her social media accounts and make Chip jealous.
Strike that, no she couldn't. Not as Nola. Okay, so that part was out, but Paris? Turning that trip down would be a mistake. How am I seriously even considering this crazy scheme?
“So people actually entered the sweepstakes, huh? You think twenty winners are going to be satisfied by coming here?” Dirk Ramsey folded his large frame onto the chair across the table from his uncle Max. Dirk had actually helped sponsor the sweepstakes, not because he thought it would pan out, but because his uncle was the only good family member he had left, and the soft-hearted guy he was couldn't say no when Uncle Max's desperation put his health in jeopardy. Instead of taking the offer to help with storm damages, Uncle Max had this insane idea about a sweepstakes to bring in out of towners, showing them the best of the town during an annual event.
“Last ditch effort.” His uncle, the mayor of Paris, Tennessee, gritted his teeth. “I need something to put this town on the map.”
“Discover a singer and keep 'em away from Nashville.” Dirk chuckled, warranting a warning glare from his uncle.
“You aren't very funny, kid. We've got the Fish Fry coming up. Why not introduce new people to our town? Sure, they may go visit Nashville's highlights, but they're staying here. In our inn. It's all about the local attractions. The flood didn't help our situation any.” Max eyed him warily. “I thought you were on board with this. If you didn't believe in it...”
“I think you could have found a different way about it, but you know damn well I'm on board.” Dirk sat up straight. “All right. You tell me what you need, and I'll help. After this though, I'm gonna have to go home.”
His uncle nodded. “I know. I can't keep ya here forever. I appreciate all the help you've given me the last few months. This time, I promise to take it easy. Your cousin Arthur can't be bothered to help. His mother says he keeps getting into trouble, but he doesn't want to talk to me about it.”
“You'd better. I don't want to hear in the middle of the night that my only family had a heart attack due to stress. Let's just hope this works.” Dirk shifted positions again.
“We've got a good lineup this year for singers, too. Some well known, some not. If it fails, we know not to do a sweepstakes. Is Maria waiting for you at home? How come she hasn't come to visit?”
“Because when she realized I wasn't coming back right away, she left me,” Dirk replied, thinking of the woman he'd almost proposed to. Go figure. When he put his heart out on the line, he got the raw end of the deal. It had taken a long time to decide, and he wondered now if he'd only thought about proposing because he'd been comfortable with her. When it came down to it, Dirk didn't love her the way he thought he should. That was almost a month ago, and he'd been quiet about it. He wasn't about to lie to his uncle, even though Max would feel guilty for keeping Dirk away from home and his life for so long.
Just as he suspected, his uncle's face fell. “Sorry about that, Dirk.”
“It's her loss.” Her loss, and his realization that it was better this way. Being comfortable with a woman wasn't enough to last a lifetime.
“Yes it is, but I know how you felt about her.”
“Yeah, well...” Dirk shrugged. Time to change the subject. “Which artists have you lined up that are noteworthy?”
“Try Kyra Sanders for our country act, and rock band Zinger.” Max pumped a fist in the air. “Think they're big enough to draw a crowd?”
Dirk whistled. “Impressive. Both acts have a huge following, and I love the diversity in music.”
“See? Your old uncle can still produce a few good moves.” Uncle Max winked, running a hand through his thinning silver hair.
“Never said you couldn't, old man, but I bet I could still kick your butt in a good old-fashioned game of bowling.”
“Is that a challenge, boy? Because if that's the case, game on!”
Dirk laughed. “Tonight? Best of three?”
“Hey, how soon until the sweepstakes winners get here, anyway?”
“A week.” The look of panic reappeared on Uncle Max's face. As suspected, he wasn't fully ready. Or maybe he was, and just had a case of perfectionism.
Damn. Not a lot of time. “Is the inn okay after that last storm?” Too many deadly and costly storms rolled through here recently, leaving Paris and surrounding communities on high alert.
“Just about. I have a small list of things needing to be done before they get here. You win bowling tonight, and I won't ask anymore of you. You lose, and the list is yours. Feeling the pressure?” Uncle Max let out a wicked cackle.
“I always feel the pressure. You know what would be hilarious? What if someone didn't read the fine print on the sweepstakes and thought they were going to Paris, France?” Dirk laughed at the image flashing in his mind of an angry person discovering how far off the mark they were. He wasn't one to mock people, but if someone didn't read all of the details, that was on them.
Paris, Tennessee was a far cry from Paris, France. Despite how much effort and money he'd invested into this whole plan, Dirk wasn't convinced it would turn out as well as Uncle Max hoped it would.
Stay tuned for more first chapter spotlights from the Luck Of the Draw set! 99 cents, or FREE in Kindle Unlimited. All stories are new and exclusive to the set.
Today's First Chapter Spotlight is on Sharon Coady's MELANIE'S CHRISTMAS GIFT, just one of twelve brand-new stories in Christmas Pets & Kisses. This 12 book boxed set releases October 11th!
Melanie’s Christmas Gift
Copyright 2016, Author
The day of the wedding finally arrived with everything moving smoothly, and everyone going about their business except Anne, who missed Melanie being underfoot. Kyle insisted on taking her to his house last night, saying he didn’t want to tempt fate. To top it off, Kyle’s mother had insisted on coming over to help Anne get ready. She didn’t know his mother and hadn’t seen her in years.
Maybe wanting to get married so quickly wasn’t such a good idea after all. It had been her idea to have the wedding quickly and try for a baby right away. Having another great-grandchild was all Pop could talk about.
She made her way into the kitchen to find Pop standing by the coffee pot, waiting for it to finish brewing. “Morning, Pop.” She kissed him on the cheek. “You ready for the big day?”
“Yep, I’m ready. Question is, are you?” His eyes crinkled as his grin spread over his mouth.
“Yes, I am. I’m so excited. I can’t believe the day is finally here. I’m glad you’re going to walk me down the aisle. I know you’re not crazy about being around so many people, but it means a lot to me.” Anne grabbed a cup from the cabinet and poured hot water from the tea kettle into her cup, before taking a tea bag from the covered container.
He turned and held his arms out. “You’re the only granddaughter I have. I hate getting dressed up and going to a church, but I’ve waited a long time for this day. Like I’ve said before, I’m getting a grandson-in-law and a great granddaughter today. Who wouldn’t be happy? I love you, girl.”
She moved into his warm arms and gave him a big hug. “I love you, too. We’re both lucky. I feel like she’s my little girl, even though I didn’t give birth to her. How lucky can I get?” She sighed. “I’m just a little worried.”
Pop pushed her back and looked into her eyes. “What are you worried about?”
“Nothing is stupid. Tell me,” he ordered sternly.
“What if her mother shows up after all these years? Will she still want me to be her mommy?” Anne lowered her eyes as she felt the heat from the blush spread over her face.
“Well now, that’s not a stupid thought. But she left that little girl years ago. Why would you think she’d show up out of the blue?” He placed his hand under her chin, gently lifting her head so he could look into her eyes.
“I don’t know. The thought has prayed on my mind the last few days. I’m worried if she comes back, Melanie will want her and not me. Oh, I sound so selfish, don’t I?” She pulled her teabag from the water and wrapped the string around the spoon, giving it a little squeeze before placing the teabag on her saucer.
“Nope, you sound like a stepparent that is worried about a birth mother. I’ll bet they have some sort of group for this.” The corners of his mouth turned up.
“You watch too much reality TV.” She couldn’t help but giggle at his comment. “We need to leave by eleven. Kyle is coming by to pick you up. It really means the world to me that you’re giving me away.” Anne felt she couldn’t express enough how much it did mean, and she wanted him to know it.
“Oh, I’m not giving you away, I’m sharing,” Pop huffed as he filled his coffee cup. “Stupid words, giving away. You don’t give someone away,” he mumbled under his breath.
“Don’t get worked up, it’s just a silly saying.”
“I’m not worked up, I’m just saying it seems like a dumb thing to say. Are you making me my oatmeal this morning?” he grumbled again.
“Yep. Sit down and let me get it for you.” She kissed his cheek. She measured the water into the pot, added the long-cooking oatmeal, and turned on the burner.
“I’m happy you’re marrying Kyle. He’s a good man, and that little girl is so darn cute. Gram would have loved her.”
Anne smiled. “I know she would have.” She missed her gram so much; the pain of losing her didn’t seem to lessen as the time went on. Even while she and Melanie had been shopping for their dresses, she wished her gram had been there to help her choose hers. “She loved Kyle. This would have made her very happy.” She stirred the oatmeal as it slowly bubbled.
He took his cup and shuffled to the table, finally sitting down. “I’m hungry. Are you going to talk or fix my breakfast?” His eyes twinkled as his mouth turned up in a crooked grin. Mavy appeared from under the table and sprung into his lap. She leaned up against his belly and purred.
“Stop being a rascal. You know I’m making it for you.” She sighed as she spooned the oatmeal into his favorite bowl. “I think I’m a bit nervous, too nervous to eat.” Her stomach was doing flip-flops this morning.
“What are you nervous for? Not like you haven’t been planning for this day. What’s got you so jumpy?”
“I haven’t met some of the people Kyle’s mother invited. It turns out he has a rather large family. We’d planned on a small wedding, and she sort of changed that. I guess it’s making me nervous. It’s just been you and me for a long time now.” She wrung her hands before tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.
“Hey, they’re going to love you. Me, I’m not so sure. I know I can be a bit gruff sometimes and that makes me hard to like. You and your gram saw through that. I guess Kyle and Melanie do, too.”
Anne set his bowl of oatmeal down in front of him and ran her hand over Mavy’s soft fur. “Anyone who takes the time to get to know you sees through it. If they don’t like you, well that’s just too bad.” She leaned down and kissed his cheek. “I’m going to go take a shower. Do you need anything else?”
“Nope. I’ll eat this and start getting myself ready, you have to be there at eleven, but Kyle said he would pick me up about nine. I guess we have to get to the church to make sure everything is set up right. He said he needed my keen eyes. I think he just wanted to get me out of your way.” He snickered.
“That’s not true. Kyle likes spending time with you, and you are not in my way. Well, having a couple of strange women in the house, fussing over me and helping me get ready, might get in your way. I’ll see you later, Pop.” Anne hurried into the bathroom and started the shower. I’m worried they’ll get in my way.
She finished her shower and dried her hair. Looking at her reflection in the mirror, Anne couldn’t believe how happy she looked; her expression was radiant. Kyle and Melanie had made such a difference in both her and Pop’s lives. I hope I get pregnant right away. She and Kyle had talked it over, and he’d agreed with her they needed to have a baby quickly. Pop was doing okay, but Anne could see he was getting weaker. She wanted to give him this one last wish. He missed Gram so much, and at times, she thought the grief overwhelmed him. She knew he tried to hide it, but his eyes always gave him away.
Just as she finished putting on her lotion and big, fluffy robe, the doorbell rang. Anne hurried out to find Pop opening the door. “Come on in. How are you this morning? I’m Anne’s grandfather, Walter, but everyone calls me Pop.” His eyes sparkled as his mouth turned up in a forced grin. “Kyle, good to see you.”
It tickled her that he was trying his best to smile and welcome everyone into their home. Pop never was one who liked crowds, especially crowds that he didn’t know coming into his home. He could be a downright cranky beast at times, so this was a pleasant surprise, and she felt her anxiety lessen.
Once the women were introduced, Kyle took Pop’s suit bag off the closet door as Pop headed for the door. “Just a moment, son.” Pop turned and glanced at Anne. “I love you, girl. See you at the wedding.” He lifted his hand and waved.
Tears welled in her eyes as she waved back. “I love you too, Pop.” Before she had time to think any further, the women surrounded her, chatting about her hair, her beautiful skin… Anne smiled and nodded, but she let her mind wander, as their chatter became nothing but background noise. She thought back to the day that she and Melanie had gone dress shopping.
Melanie had insisted on having a pink dress since it was her favorite color. Lucky for her, they had found a beautiful, pale pink dress with a chiffon skirt at the first children’s department they visited. The waist was cinched with a deeper pink ribbon tie and a silk pink flower. It was something Melanie would be able to wear again. She had been so excited; she kept spinning this way and that, looking at her reflection in the mirror. Anne remembered how she had exclaimed, “This one is perfect. I think my daddy will love it.” She had spun around again, a big smile turning her mouth up so far that her little dimples showed. “Can I have it, Mommy?”
When Anne had told her she also thought it was perfect, Melanie was so excited she kept twirling around and around in circles. She had wanted to wear it home and almost cried when Anne told her they had to pick their dresses up later.
But once Anne explained that they had to go get their shoes and stockings, as well as trying to figure out what to do about the jewelry, she had settled down somewhat. She had further explained to the little one that they still had to find a basket so she could carry the rose petals. “So you see, we have a lot more to do before we pick our dresses up and head home.”
This had appeased her and as they made their way to the shoe store, she’d chatted nonstop. “This is so much fun. I’m so glad you and Daddy will get married at that special church. I can’t wait to be the flower girl!”
After trying on almost every pair of shoes, Anne had finally convinced Melanie to get the white Mary Jane’s with a strap. Melanie had to walk up and down in front of the mirrors, looking at her feet before she declared the shoes perfect for the wedding.
Anne glanced at the dresser where her necklace with the two little intertwined silver hearts lay. She had purchased the matching necklaces that same day. She remembered how Melanie had squealed when she’d seen them. “Matching? Like mommy and daughter ones?”
“Yes, like mommy and daughter ones. Don’t tell Daddy about the dresses okay, honey? We have to keep them secret until the wedding.”
“I promise. I can keep the secret. I kept the secret about your presents!” She had beamed as Anne hooked her into the car seat and kissed her on the tip of her nose.
Her gram’s face came to mind again, making her sigh.
“Anne? Dear, are you all right?” Nancy patted her arm.
“Yes, I’m sorry, what did you say?” She hadn’t realized how deep in thought she’d been. “I’m fine. I was just thinking about my gram. I miss her and I wish she could be here today. Did you know she and Kyle stayed friends all these years? It makes me sad. I feel like I missed out on so much of their lives when I moved away to start my own.” Anne knew she was rambling; she always did when she was nervous.
“Anne, you talked to them every day and you’re here now. Yes, I knew Kyle and Elma talked often. He never stopped loving you, and he loves your grandparents. According to him, she was one of the sweetest women God ever graced the earth with. You were blessed to have her. She is with you today, don’t you make any mistake about it.”
Anne nibbled on her bottom lip. “You knew he still talked to them?” She knew these feelings were silly, but she knew so little about his relationship with her gram.
“Yes. I think it was his way of still feeling close to you. I was very upset with him for keeping Melanie a secret. I told him you and your gram would accept her. I’m sorry Melanie will never know her. You didn’t know this, but I always thought what you and Kyle had all those years ago was the real thing. It seems I was correct.” She smiled and touched Anne’s shoulder softly.
If felt strange hearing those things coming from Kyle’s mother. Anne had met her only a couple of times while they were together, and she had never been friendly or warm. “How did you know my grandmother?”
“Kyle told me about her. It wasn’t often, but he would sometimes share. My goodness, when she gave him her recipe for the spaghetti sauce, he practiced it every week until he had it perfect.”
“That was when they were living with you?”
“Yes, before he finished school and moved into his own place. He’s a very independent young man. He’s done a great job with his little girl, don’t you think?”
Anne sat back and crossed her legs, feeling a little of the tension release. “Melanie is a wonderful little girl. He’s done an amazing job.” Sighing with happiness at the thought of Kyle and Melanie again, she turned and smiled at Nancy. “What should I call you now that we’re getting married? I feel I don’t know you very well yet.” Anne gazed at the woman who was going to be her mother-in-law in just a few short hours.
“Oh, you can just call me Nancy, and this is Kyle’s Aunt Kim. I guess I should have introduced you before we started fawning all over you. I’m so excited you’re joining our family. Now, we need to get busy, or you’re not going to be ready to walk down that aisle on time. It just won’t do to have the bride late. Come, sit down so we can get started on your hair and makeup.”
“I can do my own makeup, and I was just going to pull my hair back from my face with these clips I picked up.” She pointed to her dresser as she sat down.
“Nonsense, Kim is a hair dresser, and she’ll do a beautiful job for you. Did Kyle ever tell you when I was young that I was a makeup artist for the local news station? I bet he didn’t. He never was one for talking about family business.”
“Aunt Kim?” Anne looked in the mirror at the unfamiliar lady standing behind her.
“Could you keep my hair simple, please? I don’t want anything elaborate. I don’t feel it would go with my dress. Wait a moment. I’ll get my dress so you can see what I’m saying.” She shot up from the chair and hurried to her room, closing the door behind her. Taking a couple of deep breaths, she took her dress off the hook, put a smile on her face before she opened the door, and hurried out into the dining room. “Here it is.” Anne held up the Tiffany blue, off-the-shoulder dress she’d chosen. It was fitted at the waist with a gathered, tea-length skirt that flowed perfectly over her hips. She had seen it as elegant yet soft. Anne had never wanted the traditional white wedding gown. She found herself holding her breath, waiting for their reaction.
Aunt Kim’s eyes lit up. “Oh, it’s beautiful! I love the color and the style, simple yet elegant. I know the perfect hairstyle to go with it. Look at that, Nancy. Isn’t it the most stunning dress you’ve ever seen?”
“It is stunning. I love it. I know just what to do for your makeup now, too. You will be the most beautiful bride anyone has ever seen, too. Come on now, sweetie. Hang it there for us to enjoy while we work our magic. Wait until you see what Kim did to our sweet, little Melanie. She looks like a fairytale princess with her little ringlets. She went on and on about how you helped her get her dress and shoes. She told Aunt Kim she tried on every pair in the store before she found her perfect shoes. That dress looks so adorable on her.”
Anne sat back and said a prayer as she put herself into their hands; she hoped she wouldn’t look a fright when they were done. Twenty minutes later, Nancy and Kim stepped back and declared her finished. Anne strolled into her bedroom, taking a deep breath before she gazed at her reflection in the mirror. A smile spread over her lips as she admired the way they had transformed her into an elegant, glamorous woman. “Oh my gosh, look at what you two did! I can’t wait to step into my dress.”
“May we come in?” Nancy stood in the doorway beaming, her hands clasped in front of her.
“Please! You can help me slip it on without messing up my hair or makeup.” Anne slipped out of her robe as Nancy and Kim helped her carefully step into her dress.
Kim slid the zipper up and Nancy fixed the straps. “Don’t look yet. Where are your shoes? You need to see the complete look,” Nancy exclaimed.
“They’re on the bed in the box. I won’t peek. I promise. Would you also get my necklace there on the dresser?” Anne giggled at their excitement. Kim was standing in front of her, so she couldn’t see in the mirror. She closed her eyes, wishing for the hundredth time today that her grandmother was standing with her.
“Oh, Melanie has the same one,” Nancy declared, bringing Anne back to the moment. “You bought matching necklaces. No wonder she was so excited when Aunt Kim fastened it on her neck.”
“You look exquisite. Kyle is going to be speechless. You are such a breath of fresh air for this old, stuffy family,” Aunt Kim whispered. “Don’t you tell Nancy I said that, okay?”
Anne smiled and nodded her head. “I won’t,” she whispered back.
“Here you are, slip these on. Oh my, Kim. Look at her. Kyle is going to be speechless.”
Kim and Anne giggled.
“What? He will and you know it,” Nancy declared, placing her hands on her hips.
“He will, Nancy. Don’t get your panties in a bunch. We’re laughing because I just said that exact same thing to Anne.”
“Oh, I didn’t hear you. Now, move so she can see herself.” Nancy waved her arms for Aunt Kim to move
Aunt Kim stepped to the side, and Anne’s breath caught. There, in front of her, stood a stunning, gorgeous woman. The dress complimented her pale skin as her hair pooled around her shoulders, framing her face. Her green eyes sparkled and the makeup was just smoky enough to make her appear elegant. Anne turned her face a little. “What did you do to my lashes?” She was amazed because she had little baby lashes. Now they were voluptuous and full.
“Trade secret, dear. Do you like it?”
“Yes. You’ve both made me look like a fairytale princess. How can I ever thank you?”
“Just make my son the happiest man alive and my granddaughter the happiest little girl alive. That’s all. Oh wait, there is one more thing, maybe another grandchild.”
She hugged both of them, feeling a blush spread over her face. She glanced at the time. “We better get going. I don’t think it would do for the bride to be late to the wedding.”
Christmas Pets & Kisses 2 is coming! I'm sharing first chapter spotlights, and today's spotlight is on Michele Shriver's Home For The Holidays!
Her personal and professional life at a crossroads New York lawyer Melanie Holister returns home to small town Iowa for the Holidays, where she crosses paths with her high school crush, Kaeden McGrath. Can Kaeden and his bulldog Spike help Melanie find happiness in the hometown she once couldn’t wait to leave?
Home for the Holidays
Holister left civilization behind as soon as she got past Des Moines,
carefully navigating her rented Dodge Charger on the road as a light
dusting of snow fell from the sky. It probably wasn’t the best
choice of car for winter in Iowa, but if Melanie had to go back to
Mill’s River, she at least wanted do it in style. She still
couldn’t believe she was returning to her hometown, twelve years
after she’d left it behind for Columbia University and what she was
sure would be greener pastures.
the day she left, Melanie vowed she’d never be back. For twelve
years, she’d managed to keep her promise, making sure family
holidays were spent either at her place in New York City, or her
sister’s house in Minneapolis. The latter was a compromise once
their parents complained about the long travel to the Big Apple, and
Melanie was happy to make it. She loved her family, and she even
liked the city some referred to as the Mini-Apple. It was Mill’s
River she couldn’t handle.
here she was, headed home, and worse yet, with her proverbial tail
between her legs. No boyfriend, and no job. Okay, that wasn’t
technically correct. Melanie remained an employee of the prestigious
Simmons Kline law firm, but she was just that. An employee. Not a
partner, and no longer on the partnership track. For all the future
she had at the firm, she might as well be unemployed.
for the other, Randy had ended their nearly four-year relationship
two days after the partnership vote, when he made it and Melanie
didn’t. He needn’t have waited so long. Melanie saw the writing
on the wall as soon as she’d learned her fate with the law firm.
Randy’s wealthy family was all about status, and it would never do
for L. Randolph Wentworth III to be in a relationship with someone
who would never be worthy of that status. And if Melanie wasn’t
good enough to make partner, she wasn’t good enough for Randy.
be told, professional rejection hurt more than the personal one.
Although she’d shared some good times with Randy, lately Melanie
had begun to think something was missing. She didn’t feel the
passion for him that she wanted to feel for the man she would choose
to spend her life with. No, she probably wouldn’t miss Randy all
that much. But not making partner at Simmons Kline? That one stung.
Melanie had wanted to be a lawyer since her earliest childhood
dreams, and being told she wasn’t a good enough one to be partner
was a bitter pill to swallow.
slowed her speed as she exited the two-lane highway onto the county
road that would take her to her hometown, and soon it appeared in her
line of sight. Mill’s River, Population 1309, but that might have
been a generous estimate. The population had been more than twice
that when Melanie was a young child, but once the Mill’s River
schools closed, consolidating with another nearby town, the
as she drove through town, Melanie observed it to be even more
downtrodden than when she’d left. There was a convenience store and
gas station on the outskirts, and the bank was still there, though
the name had changed. The old diner remained, as well as Hap’s Pub,
because every small town had to have at least one bar. And there on
the corner of Fifth and Main, at the only stoplight in town, stood
McGrath’s Dry Goods, as it had for almost seventy years.
light turned red, and Melanie stopped, turning her head in the
direction of the store. Did the McGraths still own it? She assumed
so, considering the name hadn’t changed. The door to the store
opened, and a dark-haired young man stepped out, carrying packages
for an older man, helping him place them in the back of his vehicle.
my gosh, was that Kaeden? It had to be. Melanie would know him by the
way he walked, always purposeful and confident. And darned if he
wasn’t just as handsome as before, if not more so. After a second
look, Melanie concluded Kaeden was, indeed, even sexier than when
they’d graduated high school a dozen years ago. And sadly, he was
still stuck in Mill’s River.
horn beeped behind her and Melanie realized the light had changed.
“Wow, are you in a hurry, buddy?” she muttered under her breath.
“Bite me.” Sheesh. It was Mill’s River, Iowa, not Manhattan.
Where did anyone need to be in such a rush? Couldn’t a girl even
check out the view?
stepped on the gas harder than intended, accelerating through the
intersection. Yikes. Hopefully the town’s one cop wasn’t lurking
nearby. The last thing Melanie needed was a ticket in her first five
minutes back in town.
turned on Elm, the street where she grew up, and pulled to a stop in
front of her childhood home. The siding was new, and the lawn
immaculate, which came as no surprise. Melanie’s parents had always
taken great pride in their property. As she turned off the engine,
the front door opened, and her mother came rushing out.
You made it. How are you?” Her mother gave her a hug. “How was
flight was fine. Both of them,” she said, answering that question
first. “And I’m okay, all things considered.” Her personal and
professional life might be in shambles, but whatever. Plenty of
people had it worse.
glad you’re here. I’m sorry we couldn’t pick you up at the
airport, but you know how your father is about driving in city
traffic.” Her mother rolled her eyes, and Melanie stifled a laugh.
That Des Moines traffic is unbelievable. “It’s
okay, Mom. I got a rental, and the drive
was fine.” She opened the
trunk and heaved her suitcase out.
long do you plan on staying? You didn’t say when you called and
told us you were coming.”
I didn’t,” Melanie said. “To be honest, I’m not sure. At
least through Christmas. Maybe New Years.” If
I can stand it here that long.
“I’m not in any rush to get back to New York. It’s not like I
really have a job anymore.”
Her mother’s eyes widened. “I know you didn’t get the promotion
you wanted, but you didn’t tell me they fired you. Oh, Melly...”
held up a hand. “It’s okay. I didn’t get fired. I still have an
associate position, if I want it.” It just didn’t lead anywhere,
and Melanie had all but decided she was done at Simmons Kline.
“Anyway, I’m here for a few weeks, at least.”
good. It’s been way too long.” Her mother lead the way up the
front step. “I’m making beef stew for dinner. Lots of potatoes,
just the way we like it.”
smiled. “That sounds great. You and Dad can fill me on everything
that’s changed in Mill’s River.”
won’t be much,” her mother said with a laugh. “Oh, but Judy
Barkley is looking for volunteers to help with town Christmas
pageant. I told her you’d call her.”
seriously...” Melanie sighed. “Why would you do that? I don’t
want to run the Christmas pageant.” She just wanted to rest, lick
her wounds from the past week, and figure out what to do next.
wouldn’t be running it, Melly. Just helping.” Her mother smiled.
“Kaeden McGrath helps out every year, just so you know. And you
always did like him a lot.”
and he was never much interested in me.
“Whatever. I’ll think about it, Mom. No promises, though.”
Still, she had to admit that spending time with Kaeden didn’t sound
too bad at all.
heard the tires peel through the intersection as he helped his
customer load his purchases into his truck. “Yikes. What was that?”
He glanced up just in time to see a black sports car disappear down
in a hurry, I’d say.”
no kidding.” Kaeden thought he knew every vehicle in Mill’s
River, and he didn’t recall seeing one like that before. Probably
some college kid thinking it’d be fun to race through a small town.
With a little luck, the chief of police would nab him a few blocks
down. “Thanks again, Gary.” He closed the car door after loading
the last of the bags. “Always appreciate your patronage.”
old man nodded. “My pleasure, Kaeden. I know things are tough right
now, but I grew up here and have shopped at McGrath’s my whole
life. That ain’t changing.” He smiled, revealing teeth yellowed
from age and tobacco. “Donna always tells me I’m too old to
chuckled. “Maybe so.”
was almost five o’clock, so Kaeden went back inside the store and
locked the register and turned out the lights. He didn’t bother to
run the receipts total. There hadn’t been much, anyway. With a
Wal-Mart twenty miles away, most people did their shopping there.
locked the door behind him and walked the block down to the pub. His
high school buddy, Jon Barkley, stood behind the bar, and waved as he
Kaed, how’s it going?”
going.” He pulled out a stool and sat down. “Glad the day’s
laughed. “And mine’s just started.” He selected a glass from
underneath the bar. “Your usual?”
nodded. His ‘usual’ was an IPA from one of Des Moines’ craft
breweries, which, thankfully, Hap’s always had on draft. Kaeden
knew that was the result of Jon finally taking over the pub from his
old man. “Thanks,” he said, taking a drink from the glass Jon set
in front of him. “This hits the spot.” He reached over and
grabbed a handful of peanuts from the bowl on the counter. “Anything
new around here?” If there was gossip in Mill’s River, the
patrons at the bar would’ve surely filled Jon in.
You won’t believe who’s back in town.” Jon leaned forward,
resting a hand on the bar. “Melanie Holister.”
Kaeden let out a dry laugh. “You mean hell froze over after all?
Little Miss Hoity Toity decided to bless Mill’s River with her
seems so.” Jon shrugged. “Don’t know the deets, just heard from
one of my three o’clock regulars that works with her dad, said she
was coming into town this afternoon.” Another customer came in, and
Jon served him, before making his way back to where Kaeden sat. “You
should look her up.”
took a long drag of his beer, enjoying the hoppy goodness. “And why
would I want do that?”
Melanie’s hot, and she always seemed to have a thing for you,”
couldn’t deny it, but that didn’t mean he planned on going down
that road. “Hot, yes, but a little too pretentious for my taste.
Besides, doesn’t she live in New York now? Some big shot attorney?”
He shook his head. “No way. I doubt she’s here for long, anyway.”
After all, she couldn’t get away fast enough a dozen years ago.”
probably not.” Jon refilled the bowl of peanuts. “Next subject.
Mom wants to know if you’ll help with the Christmas pageant again
this year. You’re in, right?”
let out a sigh. He didn’t particularly want to get roped into doing
the pageant again, but he didn’t know how to say no, either. Maybe
that was his problem. He was too damn nice. No wonder he was still
single. Girls seemed to like edgier guys these days. Well, that and
everyone wanted to leave Mill’s River. Everyone, that is, except
Kaeden. “I suppose. I mean, I do it every year, right?”
grinned. “Yep. That’s why Mom knows she can always count on you.”
that’s me. Good old reliable Kaeden. He
drained his glass and set it on the counter.
another?” Jon asked.
shook his head. “No, thanks. I’ve got to swing by my folks’
house, check on my dad, then get home and let Spike out.” He stood
and fished his wallet from his back pocket, and tossed a five on the
bar. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Jon.”
see ya, buddy. Same time, same place.”
laughed as he headed to the door. That was the thing about Mill’s
River. It never changed. So why the hell had someone who claimed to
hate the town come back? Well, it didn’t matter. Kaeden would be
busy with the store and the pageant. He’d never have to cross paths
with Melanie Holister, and that would suit him fine. He didn’t have
time for anyone who thought they were too good for Mill’s River.
is a National and International best-selling author of women’s
fiction and contemporary romance. Her books feature
flawed-but-likeable characters in real-life settings. She’s not
afraid to break the rules, but never stops believing in happily ever
after. Michele counts among her favorite things a good glass of wine,
a hockey game, and a sweet and sexy book boyfriend, not necessarily
in that order.
Nicholas Dragov, a principal dancer
with the American Ballet Theatre, is the bad boy of ballet. On stage,
his grand jeté defies the laws of physics and gravity. Off stage, he
lavishes money on fast cars and fast women. His small-town roots are
abandoned in the past, until a career-ending injury traps him back
home, in the care of the woman who broke his heart.
Marisa Chantilly was Nicholas’s first
dance partner, but he alone made it onto the world stage. In the
eight years since they have seen each other, she has married, become
pregnant, a widow, and a mother. Now, Nicholas is home, his beautiful
body broken, and his attitude darker and deeper than a volcanic
crater. A massage therapist, she knows how to work with sports
injuries, but no amount of training or professionalism can help her
endure the man who abandoned her when she needed him most.
Motorcycle headlights rippled through
the night, turning the water droplets silver and the field of
gravestones ghostly white. Nicholas Dragov swung his leg over the
motorcycle. He was reaching for his helmet when motion flickered at
the corner of his eye. He turned and scrutinized the graveyard, but
he saw nothing out of the ordinary.
He scowled. Of course nothing was out
of the ordinary. No other sane person would be out here in this
weather, at this time of the night, on Thanksgiving. He shouldn’t
have been out here either, not when his parents were at home, working
their way through the second round of their Thanksgiving feast.
His glance fell on a particular
gravestone framed by fresh flowers. Be seeing you around, buddy.
The distinctive roar of his Harley
Davidson engine coming to life cut through the soft patter of rain.
With easy expertise, he turned his motorcycle onto the narrow road
leading from Westchester Cemetery. He could make it back to his
Manhattan apartment in a little over an hour, in time for a good
night’s rest and the 8 a.m. master class tomorrow. He had only
stretched for two hours in the morning, and his muscles felt tight
from not dancing that day. He would pay for it in class tomorrow. If
he did not dance for two days, his partner would notice. Three days,
and the audience would. Ballet was the least forgiving of the arts,
and a host of talented soloists eagerly waited in the wings to claim
his position as principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre.
He could not slack.
He never had.
The familiar roar of the Harley’s
engine kept him company through winding roads pockmarked by the light
of occasional streetlamps. Westchester was no longer home, but he
still knew his way around. Eight years earlier, he had turned his
back on family and friends and fled to New York City. The eternal
bustle of Manhattan kept the loneliness at bay. The punishing and
unrelenting schedule of classes, rehearsals, and performances kept
him from dwelling on his loss.
He had a new life, and it was a great
life. Everyone said so. Obviously—his mouth twisted into an ironic
grimace—they must be right.
An image of a whitewashed house tucked
in a corner of a small Westchester neighborhood flashed through his
mind. The neatly mowed lawn and freshly planted flowerbeds. The brown
picket fence and the black Labrador reclined on the front porch, pink
tongue lolling in a half-grin. The gabled red-tiled roof and a slim,
feminine shadow at the window, looking out at him.
With effort, he wrenched his thoughts
away from the memory. His throat tightened. Hallucination. She’s
never stood at the window looking out at me. Anyway, it’s all in
The headlights of passing cars whizzed
by him. Rain pelted down, but traffic filled the narrow streets.
Nothing as mundane as a thunderstorm could dampen the enthusiasm of
pre-Black Friday sales. His motorcycle, however, allowed him to cut
through the blockade of vehicles lined up to turn in at the mall.
He was on the outskirts of Westchester
when something large and black darted across the street. A curse tore
from his lips as he swerved to avoid a crash. His motorcycle wheels
spun, but failed to grip the road, and the machine crashed to the
ground, sliding across the street. Sparks skittered as steel grated
against asphalt. Nicholas tumbled from his bike; momentum sent him
skidding over the street. White-hot shards of pain tore through his
back, burning through the leather of his black motorcycle jacket.
Wheels screeched, and cars honked.
Headlights exploded into a blinding glare, and sound merged into a
cacophony. His thoughts spun and twisted, gnarled into
incomprehensibility by screaming pain—pain that stole his breath
and blanked his mind.
Pain that plunged his world into
A pinprick of light pierced the
darkness before expanding into a vague halo. Above it, a face
appeared, its features blurry. “Sir? Sir? Can you feel my hand?”
Hand? Where? He hurt.
Movement swirled like a giddy pirouette
as huge, blocky shapes gathered around him. The voice that had spoken
to him now seemed directed to others. “On my count. Three, two,
The sudden motion wrenched such sharp
pain through him that he would have curled into a fetal ball if he
could move. The jolt smoothed into a forward motion, and the darkness
of the night overhead gave way to the sleek interior of an ambulance.
The scream of the siren sounded
distant, but unshakable, like a recurring nightmare. The young man
who had spoken to Nicholas squatted by him as the vehicle lurched to
a start. “Take it easy; we’ve got you now. We’re on the way to
the ER. Your driver’s license has a Manhattan address. Do you have
family or friends in Westchester? Anybody you want us to notify?”
Nicholas’s tongue felt like a block
of lead, but he rasped out his father’s phone number. The effort
sapped the remnants of his strength. Voices and conversations around
him melded into a tangle of sounds, and when blackness drew like a
veil over his eyes, he let go and let himself fall into a void.
The first thing that penetrated
Nicholas’s unconscious haze was the familiar stink of powerful
antiseptic cleaners. The bright, unrelenting lights blazing through
his closed eyelids were next. They twisted and turned his splitting
headache through a psychedelic hell.
He dragged his eyes open and waited
until his wavering vision anchored around a young woman in green
scrubs. She looked up with a smile. “I’m Dr. Larson. You’re at
the Westchester Medical Center ER. How are you feeling?”
His eyes—the only part of him that
could move—flicked across the room. Slowly, sensations that weren’t
shards of pain dribbled in. The stiff coolness of the sheets against
the bare skin of his legs. The absence of pain or of any kind of
sensation in his back. He stiffened, alarm widening his eyes.
The doctor must have seen his reaction.
“We gave you local anesthesia.”
“My back?” His voice was rougher
“The orthopedic surgeon came by to
evaluate you while you were unconscious. Based on the X-rays, he
doesn’t think you’ll need surgery. Luckily, you’ve come through
without any broken bones, but the severe muscle tears will take
almost as long to heal.”
“In my back?”
She nodded. “There are abrasions on
your arms and legs, but they’re minor, relatively speaking. You had
a concussion, but your helmet protected you from the worst of the
“When can I…get out?”
“Not for a while.” Her tone was
kind but brisk. “Your parents are filling out the paperwork right
now; we’re keeping you overnight. In fact, you’ll likely be here
for a few days. Dr. Carter or one of the folks over at orthopedics
will come up with a treatment plan for you, which will probably
include physical therapy and chiropractor sessions.”
“But I can walk?”
“Eventually, yes, but I’d recommend
a wheelchair for a few days, and have someone push you around, or
you’ll strain your back muscles further by moving yourself around.”